Are LA Lakers Making a Mistake by Overlooking Derek Fisher for Head Coach?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 25: Derek Fisher #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on with a bandage on his head in the third quarter against the San Antonio Spurs  during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 25, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So much for the Derek Fisher family reunion.

The Los Angeles Lakers have yet to name a new head coach, but according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, they've begun narrowing their parameters: "The Lakers have decided they need a coach with previous NBA coaching experience, which means one thing for Derek Fisher: He isn't a candidate."

There had already been some indications that Los Angeles wasn't especially interested in handing Fisher the job, so Bresnahan's report shouldn't come as a shock.

Fisher's name has mostly been linked to Phil Jackson's ongoing search with the New York Knicks, but he had been linked to the Lakers, as well. In May, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote, "As for the Lakers' coaching job, it holds tremendous appeal to [Fisher], sources with knowledge of his thinking told Yahoo Sports." 

It remains unknown just how appealing Fisher was to the Lakers, but Bresnahan does note that, "The Lakers think Fisher will be a solid NBA coach or executive at some point."

In other words, this decision isn't personal.

It's just that Los Angeles has ruled out anyone without prior experience coaching an NBA team. The reasoning is unclear, but the organization may believe it needs someone with the kind of history and pedigree that will solicit buy-in from the veteran likes of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Fisher almost certainly would have been well-liked by the duo, but it's hard to say how he would have been perceived—whether he'd be viewed as a legitimate leader with the capital to really tell these guys what to do.

Wojnarowski liked the idea of Fisher teaming up with his old team. He wrote that, "It is risky to hire a coach with no experience, but the right minds and right coaching staffs can make it work. Fisher will command respect and he'll be synonymous with a championship heritage that Lakers fans crave as a face of the franchise."

It would have been a smooth PR move to be sure.

But in this instance, general manager Mitch Kupchak and his front-office cohorts probably made a good call.

There's a good chance Fisher would have indeed been respected. But there are different kinds and degrees of respect. There's no guarantee Bryant and Nash would have followed Fisher's lead to the very end. And that matters.

This franchise is looking for a quick reversal of fortunes to make the most of Kobe's remaining time in the league. Margin for error will be accordingly slim. 

As LakersNation's Corey Hansford put it, "The Lakers are looking to make a turnaround sooner rather than later and are simply not willing to wait for Fisher to learn on the job. So far, every person they have interviewed has multiple years of head coaching experience and have experienced success during their tenures."

After failed experiments with Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, this is no time for a high-risk, high-reward gamble.

That may mean the Lakers wind up with a more conservative—and therefor less sexy—name. It may come down to a Mike Dunleavy or Lionel Hollins. Maybe the next coach doesn't remain for the long term. Maybe he's a stopgap measure, someone who is simply there to make the most of whatever Bryant has left in the tank.

It wouldn't be the end of the world if Los Angeles has to conduct another coaching search in another two or three years. 

In the meantime, this team needs some stability. And in providing stability, there's something to be said for experience. There's something to said for a candidate who already has a staff in mind, who's been around the coaching block enough times to make yet another smooth transition.

There's something to be said for a guy who can start building a new culture from day one.

Fisher would have required an adjustment period. Familiar as he is with the game and much as he's learned from some of the best, he would have been a work in progress.

That could suit him just fine in New York, where Jackson is primed to mentor the next coach and take things slowly. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to Head Coach Phil Jackson during the game against the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on December 1, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Moreover, the Knicks' time frame is less compacted. Whatever happens with Carmelo Anthony, the fact remains that there's no Kobe or Nash—no reason to rush things.

The Lakers don't have the luxury of waiting. They're looking to strike this season or next, hoping an influx of free-agent talent will give Bryant one last shot at glory.

Per NBCSports' Dan Feldman, Los Angeles has already interviewed five coaches that seem to fit their criteria: Kurt Rambis, Alvin Gentry, Mike Dunleavy, Lionel Hollins and Byron Scott.

You could make strong arguments for (and against) any of those selections, but each already has an established way of doing things. They'll immediately be ready to create a context within which Bryant can thrive, at least in theory.

In practice, well, it's too bad Phil Jackson's preoccupied. Outside of Jeff Van Gundy, there aren't many top-shelf coaches available at the moment. That's one of the reasons guys like Fisher have gained so much traction around the league, at least for teams willing to be patient. The upside is clearly there.

As for Fisher himself, it remains to be seen what direction he wants to go. New York may be his final destination, but he'll likely have other offers of various sorts—perhaps even offers to continue playing. At the moment, it's too soon to get into his head and make any firm predictions.

It's also too soon to rule out the possibility that he'll one day wind up working for the Lakers.

Now just isn't the right time.


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